How should we handle our minor son’s auto accident?

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How should we handle our minor son’s auto accident?

Our 16-year-old son, who has a learner’s permit, took my car without permission and got into an accident which totaled my car. He was cited for driving without a license, speeding, and not staying in his lane. It is beginning to look like our auto insurance may not cover the damage to the vehicle or property where he damaged a fence. Do we have any recourse if the insurance company denies coverage? He took the keys from my purse in our dining room. Also, if we go to court for the citations which the trooper recommended, could they punish him further?

Asked on October 29, 2018 under Accident Law, North Carolina

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

If you allowed him to take the car--which means he did not steal it (see below)--you violated the terms of your policy and let an unlicensed driver drive; that violation means they do not have to cover the loss.
If he stole the car--which is what taking a car without the owner's permission is: theft--then the insurer might cover, but you'd have to press potentially serious charges against your son to show that he did steal it: you cannot claim he stole it without taking action against him. And if charges are pressed, he clearly could face punishment: fines (which in the end, you'd pay, as his parents), probation, possibly (not likely, but not impossible) jail time and also have a criminal record (though if it's a JV record, it would likely be sealed--in my state [NJ] it would be).
Basically, you may have to choose between insurance coverage and your son. This, however, is a just a statement of how these things often work; every case is different and is resolved on its own facts. You are strongly encouraged to consult in detail with a lawyer about the situation and your options.


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